Deal­ing with cal­en­dar clashes

How Gulf Rac­ing over­came a change in per­son­nel to fin­ish sec­ond in Shang­hai

Total 911 - - Motorsport - Ben Barker

We all know how frus­trat­ing it can be when things that we want – or have – to do are sched­uled at the same time in dif­fer­ent places, and mo­tor­sport is no dif­fer­ent. From the likes of the FIA try­ing to plan in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onships that don’t have date clashes, to driv­ers rac­ing for a liv­ing hop­ing that job of­fers don’t make them have to choose be­tween events, there are al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult mo­ments to over­come. It’s even more frus­trat­ing, for a driver at least, when mat­ters out­side of rac­ing dic­tate whether you are in the cock­pit or not.

The Gulf Rac­ing team faced this at the re­cent ‘fly­away’ events in Ja­pan and China, with our in­trepid leader, Mike Wain­wright, un­able to make the trips east, caus­ing not only racer’s frus­tra­tion for him, but also re­quir­ing the team to find sub­sti­tutes to part­ner my­self and Nick Fos­ter.

And it’s not just a case of throw­ing any avail­able driver into the line-up ei­ther. Quite apart from any com­mer­cial or brand is­sues that may need to be over­come, the re­place­ment needs, ideally, to be a good fit for the team and, even bet­ter, fa­mil­iar with the type of car they’ll be rac­ing. The Gulf team did an ex­cel­lent job on that front, bring­ing in Amer­i­can Mike Hed­lund for Fuji and Khaled Al Qubaisi for Shang­hai. Both are ex­pe­ri­enced Porsche rac­ers with at least one Le Mans 24 Hours be­hind them. They def­i­nitely weren’t out of place in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, and that helped make it an easy tran­si­tion for both par­ties.

Be­ing a Bri­tish team, it helped that both driv­ers had good com­mand of the Queen’s English, not just in com­mu­ni­cat­ing what they wanted from the car – set-up changes, seat po­si­tions and the like – but also be­cause it makes ra­dio chat­ter dur­ing the race eas­ier to un­der­stand. You can imag­ine that, even with the qual­ity of mod­ern pit-to-car ra­dio, the noise in a closed cock­pit can make it hard for both team and driver to hear what is be­ing said, and un­fa­mil­iar ac­cents – and a lack of fa­cial cues nor­mally seen in face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion – only ex­ac­er­bate that dif­fi­culty.

I know from my time rac­ing for for­eign teams in both the Porsche Car­rera Cup in Ger­many and the F1-sup­port­ing Porsche Su­per­cup that peo­ple only speak your lan­guage when they want to or have to. They’re not be­ing rude, as they are do­ing what’s best for the team in that mo­ment, and try­ing to give in­struc­tions in a for­eign lan­guage, or more than one lan­guage, when it is not nec­es­sary is point­less. As the out­sider, you can’t af­ford to feel like you’re be­ing ex­cluded, even if you think you are miss­ing out on be­ing part of the process of mak­ing im­prove­ments to the car, or what­ever.

The real key is mak­ing sure that ev­ery­one is as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble in the team en­vi­ron­ment. If a driver feels at ease, they will also be more re­laxed be­hind the wheel, and that is only good for their per­for­mance on the track. It’s part of my role to help in­te­grate any new­comer to the line-up, and trans­parency is vi­tal in mak­ing them feel at home. Luck­ily, Mike and Khaled had a lot in com­mon with my­self and Nick, and Mike Wain­wright too, in that, as well as know­ing what they wanted from the

#86 Porsche 911 RSR, they pre­ferred rel­a­tive ra­dio si­lence when in the cock­pit.

Clearly the team and I did our jobs well, as the per­for­mances in both Ja­pan and China car­ried on from where the usual crew had left off in Texas. Un­for­tu­nately we were de­nied a good re­sult at

Fuji be­cause of some pretty se­vere weather, and the mis­for­tune of los­ing a lap to the safety car at just the wrong time. How­ever, we more than made up for that in China, with Khaled join­ing Nick and my­self on the sec­ond step of the podium, im­prov­ing on the third place Nick and I achieved with Mike Wain­wright in Mex­ico in Septem­ber.

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